Chapter 18 Bedevilment beginnings

“We've got company coming Ben and I'm pretty sure it's Ungar with the brandy. I can see infrared signatures of men fanning out in the woods. These guys aren't very stealthy, I get an occasional glimpse of them on my visible light cameras.” Ben looked up at the vid and saw some movements in the treeline and spotted the black miasma emitting from the carriage tractor's exhaust system heralding Ungar's imminent arrival. The tractor and its ornate carriage lurched to a stop about one hundred yards from the ship. Ungar got out and laboriously removed five crates of brandy from the back of the carriage and set them in the grass. “What do you think we should do Celeste?” asked Ben. “He can't carry these to the ship, at least not without taking a week to do it.” “I'll send out a loader robot to carry him and the crates to the ship. There are way too many armed men out there to risk you helping,” said Celeste as a lift on the ship's underside lowered a robotic platform on treads to the ground. It rolled off the lift and headed off to Ungar and stopped next to the crates. Ungar loaded them, and with some trepidation climbed on and sagged down atop a crate.

“I'll deploy the ramp on the opposite side of the ship Ben, it will provide you with cover from Davin's men. Have Ungar walk up and I'll move the crates into the ship.” Ben went to the hatch and watched as the robotic platform pulled up to the ramp. Ungar stood, carefully stepped off and slowly trod up the ramp and entered the ship.

“Greetings Ungar and welcome,” Ben said with a smile. “I hope you had a good trip. Please follow me to the salon and have a seat.” Ungar followed Ben, eyed the seat he sat in last time and carefully sat down. On the table in front of him was a glass of wine and a plate of cheeses and crackers. “Celeste will join us shortly, she is looking at your trade goods. Was the stun gun a satisfactory gift?” Ungar swallowed and cleared his throat. “Yes, the Senior Elder and the Marshal were most pleased, and they want more. I brought you five cases of our very best brandy to trade for five more of them, that is if it's acceptable to you.” Ben looked straight at Ungar. “I gather it's important for you that you get these in trade?” “Yes,” Ungar stammered, “Senior Elder Davin doesn't like to be disappointed, and failure is always punished as the Oneness has always dictated.”

“Celeste walked into the salon followed by a small bot carrying a bottle of Ungar's brandy and sat on the couch furthest from Ungar. Turning to Ben she said, “Would you please pour yourself a glass and let me know what you think of the brandy.” Ben took the bottle, poured a small glass, and sat down next to Ungar and took a small sip. “What did the elders think of the stun gun?” Ungar with a sad smile said, “They apparently liked it. It was tested on me, and they want more.” “Do you have children Ungar?” asked Celeste. Ungar quietly sat for a moment. I have two children. My son Toma was drafted into the security forces. He did not survive the training. Like me, he was a bookish sort of boy and not well suited for violence, but he had no choice. My daughter Lora was moved to the women's quarters when she was fourteen. We now only see her on rare occasions.”

Celeste stared hard at Ungar for a moment, then seemed to look off into space for a moment. “Ungar look at the vid. Is this your daughter?” The images of the three women who received the tablet in the box appeared. A startled Ungar blurted, “Yes, she was the first face I saw. How did you do that? Is she okay?” “I think she is fine Ungar. The day Davin and his elders first came to our ship, she and two others were watching from the woods. After the elders precipitously exited, I spotted them. I sent a small bot out with a tablet and some food and drink near them. One of them ran out of the woods and took the box.”

Celeste looked back at Ungar. “Do you really believe there is a Oneness? No one else will hear your answer but us.” Ungar fidgeted, took a gulp of his wine, looked over his shoulder and shrugged. “I have my doubts, and many elders act less than holy.” Ben said, “Ungar, do you know where the sacred chamber is?” Ungar nodded, “Yes, I have been by it many times.” Ben looked over at Celeste, lifted an eyebrow and heard a quiet “Yes.”  He leaned over towards Ungar, “Would you like to see what is inside? We can show you?” Ungar very slowly nodded again and the vid started. Ben and Celeste both watched Ungar's face as his curiosity quickly faded and then contorted and twisted as he watched. Celeste stopped the vid midway and advanced it forwards. The scene now showed a barely alive beaten and bloody woman being pushed back in the crate and it tumbling down into the shaft.

Ungar shakily swallowed the last of his wine. Ben took his glass, refilled it and gave it back. Ungar in almost a whisper said, “Was that real? I knew that girl, she was a cleaner like my daughter. How did you do this?” Celeste flatly said, “It was all too real.” A tiny drone the size of a wasp flew into the room and landed on the edge of Ungar's glass and looked up at him. Ungar's gaze shifted to the vid now showing him sitting in the chair. The drone then flew away back to the ship's hold.

“Ungar, there is no Oneness or sacred book. The Elders use this fiction along with their security forces to keep you and the others enslaved for their personal benefit. We can help you change this if you desire,” said Ben. “But how? They have armed men with weapons and funds. We have nothing.” “That's not true Ungar, you have us to help,” averred Ben, “And as you have seen we have some powerful tools. Do you wish to help stop Davin and the elders?” Ungar quietly said, “Yes I do.” 

Celeste chimed in, “We need to recruit trusted allies, particularly the women who suffer the most. Start with your daughter. Urge her to use the tablet to talk to me when no one else is around and to keep it very hidden. In the meantime, we'll make the Elders very uncomfortable as a distraction. Ben, would you please get Ungar five stun guns, and there is a pill in the replicator for him.” Ben jumped up and went aft. He reappeared a couple of minutes later with the stun guns in a cloth bag, set it next to Ungar, and then handed him the pill.

Celeste quietly said, “Ungar, some Elders including Davin aren't going to feel well shortly and likely you a little bit. You will know when it happens and don't get too far away from a toilet. It won't kill them but will disable them for about three days. This pill will stop you from getting too uncomfortable. At the same time since you are also a bit ill, it will take any suspicion away from you. Please take it right now while we watch. With a gulp of wine, the pill disappeared. Tell Davin we will trade 100 units of the mineral Rhabdophane for a much more powerful and larger stun gun that can be used on entire crowds.” With that Ben stood, “Ungar I will escort you to the ramp now, have a safe journey back, and we will see you again and talk more.” Ben watched as Ungar slowly made his way to the carriage with his box and belching smoke it disappeared into the woods.

Ben walked back into the salon and sat down next to Celeste. “What's next on the agenda?” With a nasty smile, Celeste said, “I'm cooking up a big batch of a nasty bug for the Elders, and brewing a fungus that loves to eat soybean oil and poops a sludge.” The vid lit up with an image of a small industrial facility surrounded by tanks adjacent to a power generating station belching a familiar looking black smoke. “Here is their soybean oil processing plant.” The image zoomed in to stand alone tank with a line of carriage tractors next to it. “And this appears to be the carriage fueling station. A great place for my fungus to thrive. I'll send a drone out after dark and see if there is a vent we can dump some into. It will take a few days to work, but we have the time. Let's have lunch outside Ben. I'll have a bot lower a table and chairs, and cook something healthy for you. By the time we're done Ungar should be there, and we can watch what happens. By the way, how was Ungar's brandy?” “Very good, I think you should sample it and add to the galley's inventory.”